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Shoulder Bursitis

Like air-filled bubble wrap, bursa are fluid-filled sacs that cushion areas of friction between tendon and bone or skin. These sacs reduce friction between moving parts of the body, such as the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, and heel. Shoulder bursitis simply means that there is inflammation of one of these bursa.

Shoulder pain with swelling is usually called Impingement Syndrome. This syndrome occurs when there is inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons and the bursa that surrounds them.


The pain of shoulder bursitis or impingement syndrome is common with overhead activities of the shoulder and while sleeping at night, especially while lying on the affected shoulder. Pain is usually found over the outside of the shoulder/upper arm. In most cases, shoulder bursitis comes about when there has been unusual or overloading activity with the shoulder or as a result of repetitive type movements that continuously pinch the tendon/bursa combination. Often the structure of the bones is such that the opening for the bursa or tendon is closed down and creates too much pressure on the softer tissue resulting in inflammation and pain.

Home Treatment

Rest the area and stop activities that cause aggravation of the pain (sports or work-related). Home treatment remedies for shoulder bursitis include:

  • Shoulder ice packs at least twice a day for 15-20 minutes
  • Shoulder Hot Packs that help relieve pain 
  • Topical pain relieving gels that can provide temporary pain relief
  • Magnetic therapy that may help promote healing process


Medical Treatment

  • If the bursitis is not infected, the physician may inject the bursa with a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation. The results last for varying lengths of time. Because of potential complications, injections are usually given no more than three times per year at least 30 days apart.

  • If the bursitis is infected, the bursa will be drained with a needle. The physician will most likely prescribe antibiotics to be taken in pill form.

  • If the infection is very serious, or does not respond to oral antibiotics, or if the immune system is weakened for another reason, the patient may be admitted to the hospital for IV antibiotics. Most cases of infectious bursitis, however, can be managed safely at home.

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